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What I Learned About Life Working in Show Business

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Working in Show business

If you’ve been a follower of Frugal Rules for long, you probably know me as Mrs. Frugal Rules – the woman behind the scenes helping edit content (or, as John likes to say, I’m who keeps readers’ eyes from bleeding). 🙂 But, I’m also a professional copywriter with nearly ten years of experience writing for some of America’s top brands and businesses.

A Little Bit About Me

 

I live in the Midwest now, but before Mr. Frugal Rules brought me out here, I relished thrice weekly trips to the beach, rollerblading around Mission Bay and riding my bicycle everywhere. I was born and raised in San Diego, California but spent a brief stint in Los Angeles after college.

Life in Los Angeles

 

Like many other recent college grads, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I moved up to L.A. and started temping for movie studios. My first gig was transcribing recordings of creative sessions for DreamWorks Animation at their Burbank studio.

It was a beautiful campus, I was paid well and I got to type a lot of pages about movie plots that seemed LSD-inspired.

After a few weeks, I ended up at DreamWorks proper in Universal City assisting the Executive Producer in charge of creating electronic press kits for the studio’s major releases. Here are the movies that premiered while I worked there:

American Beauty

Gladiator

Prince of Egypt

Small Time Crooks

What Lies Beneath

 

Now, in case you can’t tell from the titles, this was around 2000. I’m sure I’m dating myself here but I worked in the publicity department for the studio in the day when footage was recorded on Beta tapes and messengered around town.

I had a lot of truly great experiences during my time there and encountered more famous people than I probably ever will again, but I also learned a few life lessons that I think apply to anyone, regardless of whether or not you’re working in show business.

Lesson 1 – Say Yes to Opportunities

 

While working for this producer, I indicated my interest in film and video editing and she responded by inviting me to tag along to recording sessions with people like Jeffrey Katzenberg and premieres where I met stars like Woody Allen, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Blair Underwood, and Steven Spielberg. I helped dig through Amblin Entertainment’s stock rooms to find props for an interview with Robert Zemeckis and overall just had a great time.

When the studio needed volunteers to work a rope line at a premiere or stay late to prepare press roundups for movie releases, I said yes. I got to know my co-workers better that way and made some memories that finally allow me to say ‘yes’ when someone learns I’m from Southern California and asks if I’ve ever met anyone famous. (Up until that point the only celebrity I’d ever met was Geena Davis at Whole Foods; by the way she was very pleasant, looked totally normal and was extremely tall.)

In the end, I said ‘yes’ to the biggest opportunity and adventure of all when Mr. Frugal Rules asked me to marry him. It meant leaving Los Angeles for Omaha (or the ‘staple in the atlas’ as John calls it) but the move has been well worth it. I might not meet many famous people today but I am privileged to work with equally talented and industrious individuals.

Lesson 2 – Fight for Balance

 

So, you’ve heard about the glitzy side of Hollywood, but not all that glitters is gold. Along with all the awesome experiences that anyone would love to have, came ones I wish I could forget – like too many hours to count spent in traffic just trying to get home from my job in Universal City to my apartment in Santa Monica.

Most of the people I worked with ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at their desks. Most were single, at least in part because they never had time to leave the office and meet people, let alone date or get married.

Oddly enough, the movie industry is a stressful one. While we weren’t curing people or creating technology that transforms lives, lots of people worked like their lives were on the line.

Tempers flared over bad reviews or negative press coverage of a recent studio release. Many chose to take their stress out on their direct reports by screaming and cussing at them. Few took the time to enjoy the beaches and dining that Southern California is so famous for.

I took mental notes of this and decided early on that this was not the kind of life I wanted to live. ‘It might cost me my career,’ I thought, ‘but darn it all to heck, I am going to take lunch today. I’m going to go surfing tomorrow morning and I’m going out to dinner, with a friend tonight.’

I learned that balance doesn’t just fall into your lap. It’s also not reserved for the lucky few who land in circumstances that foster it. It’s something you have to fight for. That was true then and remains true today as I run a budding business with Mr. Frugal Rules and enjoy life as a mom to our three little ones.

Lesson 3 – Take Pride in What You Do

 

Taking pride and satisfaction in your work, whether or not it’s your dream job, is something we can all do. A few years after moving to Omaha, I remember listening to a story NPR ran on the Writers Guild of America strike. Screenwriters and TV writers were striking. As the strike wore on, one out of work writer was quoted as saying something along the lines of, “Man, I hope this ends soon. I’ve had to go back to copywriting, bleh.” And I was thinking, ‘Thanks for slamming my profession, buddy. I thought what I did was pretty cool.”

Now I know there’s a vast difference between writing a funny, captivating ad and writing a script for a TV show or movie. For starters, I rarely write under my own name. I take on the voice of the brand I represent and write messages for them, but does that really make me any less of an artist?

I used to write for a life insurance company and was told all the time, ‘tell people they need to buy this product but you can’t mention ‘die,’ ‘death,’ ‘peace of mind,’ or ‘comfort.’ I always thought it required more creativity to get someone to buy a product like life insurance, which requires you to face your own mortality, than to amuse someone.

That little segment on NPR forced me to think through why I choose to spend my writing talent on copy that sells instead of art that entertains. In the end, I’m okay with what I do because it helps me provide for my children and support my family. I’ve learned to take pride in what I do and hone my craft so that I can be proud of my work and achieve the goals my clients want.

 

What lessons has your profession taught you about life? When you look back at your career, what would you do differently? Have you met anyone famous? If so, dish up!

 

 

Photo courtesy of: Alex

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Nicole Schmoll is an experienced professional copywriter who writes regularly for clients in the finance, IT, healthcare, trades and retail industries. Check out samples of her work and services at Ink Harmony.

24 Comments

  • Great lessons. I’m in rehearsal for a show right now and next door Norm Lewis, Fred Willard, and Frank Azaria are rehearsing for a concert. I’ve been running into them in the hallway all week. I’ve learned that everyone is just a person, and someone being famous doesn’t make them much different than me- kindness always goes a long way, regardless of who you are.

    • Nicole says:

      It’s funny isn’t it that once you see celebrities in real life, mundane settings, you see just how normal they are? 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience and I hope your auditions and rehearsals continue to go well!

  • Super cool, Nicole! It sounds like you learned a lot of lessons that translate well into what you’re doing today.

  • Awesome lessons here, Nicole. I loved my career in banking and mortgage and learned so much there, but the main thing I learned is that money isn’t everything.

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences Nicole! I worked for 13 years in financial services in a predominantly all-male environment so my work experiences taught me to have a thick skin, to not take things personally and to work harder than everyone else so that no one assumed you got the job because you were a woman but because you were the best person for it.

  • In 1997 I had a brief stint in LA (from Seattle) working at a movie trailer company. I thought it was the be all end all of what I was hoping to achieve with my career and I could not have been more wrong. The movie industry was not what what I expected and it was difficult and stressful. I did go to a couple premiers at that time, but never really “met” any celebrities. When I worked in the video game industry later it was much more my pace (even though I don’t play video games) and we had celebrities come in to do VO work. With the exception of a few pleasantries, we didn’t interact too much with them. We did have lunch with Annie Potts once and she was delightful and funny.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks for sharing Tonya. I was hoping you’d comment. It’s totally crazy how stressed out and insanely inhumane people are treated in an industry that exists to entertain. Glad you found your niche in video game editing. 🙂

  • Jenna says:

    Staple in the map. That’s an amusing way to put it. 🙂

    Saying yes to opportunities is a great thing. You’ll never know where it will lead you.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks Jenna. I wonder how many kids today even know what an atlas is 🙂 And yes, I second your opinion; in the spirit of Jim Carey, being a ‘yes man’ is a great thing! 🙂

  • Kassandra says:

    I’ve had a variety of professional experiences including working with actors and celebrities. My careers have thought me to be open to learning and identifying and seizing opportunities. Most importantly, never burn bridges as you may need to cross them or vice versa. I agree with your points, especially taking pride in what you do!

    • Nicole says:

      So true. Word gets around. If you are consistently professional, excellent and respectful (and act with discretion) in what you do, that will increase the business flowing your way whereas the opposite will dry it up.

  • Grayson Bell says:

    That is pretty cool Nicole! I like the first lesson of saying “yes” to opportunities. You never know where they will take you. You can go anywhere if you don’t say yes to some things.

  • Kim says:

    I have met several children or spouses of famous people in Telluride. Not so many famous ones themselves or I maybe I did not recognize them. No one ever looks like you think they would. That’s really cool that you had that experience. It is so true that lots of people work so hard to live in a dream place, yet never take the time to enjoy it. Myself, I’d take Omaha over LA any day.

    • Nicole says:

      Having lived both places, I’d take Omaha any day as well. And yes, no one ever looks the way you think they would outside of premiers and red carpet events 🙂

  • This is some really great advice! It’s interesting how casually viewers react to shows/movies. For example, I’ll watch an episode or even just the first 10 minutes of a show and think “this is terrible” and then share my opinion on social media. This truly affects the people who worked on it, but you never think about that.

    The most famous person I’ve met through my career is Jeff Gordon, who came to our work during our giving campaign to promote some of the stuff he was partnering with AARP on.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks DC. So true. Sharing on social media feels so impersonal in some ways that you never think your comments will reach the people who worked on the show let alone offend or inspire them.

  • Living in LA, I get asked all the time what celebrities I’ve seen, probably fewer than most imagine, but I don’t hang out at celebrity hotspots or nightclubs. 🙂 I love there first lesson – saying yes to opportunities it so important. And scary but it can lead to great things … even Omaha. 🙂 I think one of the biggest lesson my profession has taught me is how much power and fear money has over them. How little money really brings joy in their lives because they don’t have a healthy relationship with it.

    • Nicole says:

      So true. So few people (I’m sure celebrities included) have a healthy relationship with money and understand how to use it like a tool to accomplish their goals and provide for the things and people they are passionate about. Glad you’re out there helping people do it! 🙂

  • It sounds like you’ve learned the power of yes and the power of no (balance).

    My career taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to, and that I’m motivated by more than money.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks for sharing Emily. Curious to know what else you’re motivated by 🙂 When I became a mom, I learned that I’m more motivated by family than money. Probably too much so since I’d rather be poor and with my kids than wealthy beyond belief and have no relationship with them.

  • “…balance doesn’t just fall into your lap.” This is incredibly true! Achieving balance in life requires intentionality. We have to go seek it out.

    The interesting thing about balance is that I didn’t know I didn’t have it for the longest time. And then one day it just kind of smacks you in the face and you realize things are out of whack. By then it’s real hard to maneuver your way back and find the balance you need. It can be done…just takes a lot of time, effort and patience.

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